A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Unquestionably, the 1951 filmic version of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL ($20) remains one of the finest, if not the finest, adaptations of the tale ever produced for the silver screen. Originally released in Great Britain under the title SCROOGE, this presentation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL maintains the original British title on its credits. A CHRISTMAS CAROL stars Alastair Sim, who many (including myself) consider to be the definitive screen Scrooge. Sim's portrayal is near perfection; he brings to life the miserly skinflint in broad strokes, yet gives subtle nuance to the character as he undergoes a transformation that allows him to redeem his life.
For those few individuals unfamiliar with Charles Dickens' classic tale, the story finds the heartless Ebenezer Scrooge visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern) on Christmas Eve. Marley warns the heartless Scrooge of the horrors that await him in the next life and has come to give the miser one last chance to avoid that fate. Scrooge will be visited by three spirits of the Christmas season who will show him the errors of his ways. Only through their guidance can his soul be saved. The Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future show Scrooge how each life touches so many others, and how inhumanity breeds more inhumanity. The first class British cast of A CHRISTMAS CAROL also includes Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley, George Cole, Francis De Wolff, Rona Anderson, Carol Marsh, Brian Worth, Miles Malleson, Ernest Thesiger, Glyn Dearman and Patrick Macnee.
VCI Entertainment has made A CHRISTMAS CAROL available on DVD in a transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. For this release, VCI has been given access to the film’s original negatives and has produced the absolute finest looking version of the film, which bests all previous releases. There is far more clarity and detail in the image than ever before- costumes, sets and props display textures that were never discernable in previous video incarnations. A few shots appear to be of a lesser generation film element and are slightly softer, and there are a couple of individual shots of questionable generation. For the most part, blacks appear deep and inky, whites are crisp, plus contrast and grayscale are generally impressive. Film grain is never excessive, plus the presentation has been digitally scrubbed to remove the majority of blemishes and other signs of age.
VCI also offers a cropped 16:9 enhanced version of the file for the hi-def TV market; however, this version blows up the film elements, reduces the resolution and produces a slightly softer looking presentation. As a purist, the original aspect ratio remains the preferred viewing experience.
For this release, A CHRISTMAS CAROL comes with a Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack, as well as a Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack, which decodes to standard surround, (a listed 5.1 channel option was not present on my disc). The surround track gives a nice spread to the sound, but the monaural track was equally effective. Most of the age related background hiss and other audible anomalies have been cleaned up in the mastering process, leaving the tracks with a very respectable sonic quality. Dialogue is crisp and always perfectly intelligible, the voices maintain a good sense of character. As expected, limitations in fidelity render the music a bit thinly, but it does hold up at normal listening levels. No other language tracks are offered, but English and Spanish subtitles are present. A descriptive track for the blind is also included.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. Disc one features both the full screen and wide screen presentations, along with Audio Commentary by film historian Marcus Hearn and actor George Cole, plus Cast Biographies. Moving on to disc two, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming. A colorized version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and the 1935 version of SCROOGE starring Seymour Hicks are the primary component of disc two. Spirit Of Christmas Past is fifteen-minute program featuring actor George Cole talking about his career and working with Alastair Sim. Richard Gordon Remembers George Minter & Renown Pictures is an audio interview with the moneyman and American distributor of the film. Charles Dickens: His Life & Times offers an abbreviated look at the author. Before & After Restoration Comparison shows a few side-by-side samples of the digital wizardry applied to clean up the film elements for this DVD. Photo & Press Book Gallery offers a slide show of publicity images for the film. Original American & British Theatrical Trailers close out the supplements.
As I stated above 1951’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL is just about the best screen version of the Charles Dickens tale. VCI’s Ultimate Collector’s Edition DVD is the finest presentation of the film that fans have ever been offered, plus it contains some very solid supplements. Highly recommended.
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